Alex was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 36 years ago. Since then he has run six marathons – the first when we was 15 – and the latest a few years ago. In 2006 Alex underwent islet cell transplant and was, for some time, insulin independent. He now lives in Southeastern Arizona where he is working on a novel, teaching college English, pursuing a Master’s degree, and training to run his first 50 mile race. Read full bio

The Price of Diabetes in the U.S.

Price of Diabetes in the U.S.

If you’re sick in the United States, one way or another, you’ll pay.

I learned this when, as a type 1 diabetic, I lost my health insurance not once, but twice.

The first time I lost my insurance was five years ago. I was a few years into paying more than $500 per month for my own coverage that I took with me from my corporate job before I started my career as a self-employed writer. Then one day this insurance company sent me a letter saying that in two weeks they were cancelling my policy. They didn’t give a reason. I guessed it might be because, in addition to being a diabetic, I had recently undergone an experimental islet cell transplant procedure to cure diabetes, which was apparently a faux pas if you want to keep your insurance. So I called my company (not to name names, but the first word of this company rhymes with Munited, and the second rhymes with StealthCare) and said, “Hey, you can’t do this.” They said, basically, “Yeah, we can.” I called the insurance regulators in the state where I live and they said, “That is an outrage! But, yeah they can do that.”

I shopped for insurance and was told repeatedly that I couldn’t get any, at any price. No one came out and said specifically that it was because I was over age 40 and a diabetic since age 11 and had taken part in an experimental procedure. They just said they did not have an individual plan that would cover me. So, I found myself uninsurable. Then, I had an epiphany. I had not made a direct, paid living, or had an income, for six months. This meant that I might qualify for Medicaid in Arizona, where I live near the U.S.-Mexico border.

I went down to the local state Medicaid office and, what do you know, I qualified! I had total, head-to-toe coverage and I paid nothing. It was, honestly, so grand to be a little embarrassing. But, I had no other options so I took the coverage and vowed it would be temporary until I got a decent job and could pay my own way.

In the next few years I got my master’s degree, had two books published, started teaching English composition as an adjunct faculty member at a nearby college, and looked constantly for a full time job with benefits. But, living in a seriously depressed economy along the border makes finding a job with health coverage tough. Or, as Mishka Shubaly said in his book, I Swear I’ll Make It Up To You, “I’d learned to bitterly envy my friends with health insurance the way I once bitterly envied people in love.” Then, last year I was assigned four classes to teach instead of the usual three. That meant more money, but it also put me over the earning limit to receive Medicaid. I made $83 a month too much. The state dropped my coverage.

I totally understand why they dropped me, and I have no gripe about it, but, I found myself still uninsurable and making too much to receive state assistance all while pulling down about $12,000 per year.

That led me to looking at the cost of being a retail diabetic, doctors not included. Two bottles of Lantus per month would run about $800. One bottle of Novolog would cost about $400. Blood testing strips would cost about $200 per month. All told, if I lived cheap, it would cost $1,400 per month to stay alive as a type 1 diabetic without insurance. It was more than I was making.

But wait! Obamacare! Duh. I can get full care from the government. A Sweet Life’s own Karmel Alison wrote so movingly about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for diabetics that she was invited to the White House to stand with the President for a speech celebrating the Act. So, I went online and looked at what it would take to get health care through the Affordable Care Act. What it took was about $4,000 a year in monthly premiums and coverage that kicked in after I met a $6,850 deductible. That left me with $1,150 to live on for the year.

While panicking and struggling to find ways to stay alive with a week to go until my insurance ended, one thing about my situation struck me as truly sickening: No matter what I did or did not do, being sick in the United States was about money.

If I had money, I could afford to be sick. If I didn’t have money, the state would help me because I was poor and needed health care. But, either way, the formulation by insurance companies and the government was not about my wellbeing, my care, my health, or my quality of life living with a condition I did nothing to contract. It was about money.

While I applaud the efforts of the Affordable Care Act to allow more people better access to health insurance, and while I think it’s good that recently the rate of uninsured in the U.S. dropped below 10 percent, I also realize it’s only a first step. That’s because the fundamental premise behind providing health care based on how much money you have—whether too much or too little—is wrong. There must be a next step. The next step must be to stop formulating health care along economic lines so that some people are included, some are excluded, and some end up with no care and no options for receiving care. 

While living on the Mexico border has not been good for my job prospects, it does give me access to low cost drugs. I can go across the line and buy NPH insulin for $10 a bottle, and Regular for $10 a bottle. Testing strips are an indulgence because they’re still fairly expensive, even in Mexico.

As I sit and send out resumes and interview for a job that will allow me to one day see a doctor again, I wonder what I would do if I did not have the ability to cross into Mexico and buy low cost insulin. Perhaps I could save enough to see a doctor, and get a prescription for cheap insulin at WalMart. Or, better yet, perhaps one day I’ll live in a country that doesn’t make you pay, on way or another, for simply being sick. 


Checking in on New Year’s Resolutions

Checking in on New Year’s ResolutionsThanks to my half-hearted New Year’s resolutions my diabetes is going better this year than last year.

January is the time for making resolutions but, if you’ve got the guts, February is the time to see how they’re holding up. A month later is a good time to check back in and reappraise those resolutions because February separates the wanna be resolvers from those who resolve and keep the faith. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, January is theoretical, while February is when things get real.

I checked in on my resolutions the other day and found an unexpected pattern. The things I focused on, the things I made hardcore promises to myself to change about myself, are going all right. Not great, just all right. For instance, I resolved to run every day of the year in 2015. (Yes, I know. It’s a decidedly grandiose resolution. But, hey, if you can’t go first class, stay at home.) By January 31 I had missed three days of running. So, you know, while it’s not exactly what I’d planned, it’s still not bad.

Then I examined the things that I half-heartedly resolved. These would be more abstract resolutions that are not as grandiose or dramatic as running every day, totally quitting chocolate, giving up beer, or never, ever, ever being late. These resolutions included trying not to be so uptight and rule bound, letting go of things that I really can’t control—which means that far fewer idiot drivers will be getting screamed at from the inside of my car this year—and trying to be at peace with the fact that making an effort does not always yield results equal to that effort.

This last one is specific to how, after seven years of work I have finally completed a novel. And however much I would like for that novel to be published, if it’s not published I’m not going to then say that I’m a terrible writer, despite the years of work. (Another resolution regarding this is that this year I will not work on a novel.) The success of keeping this resolution regarding effort and results has had a bonus effect of improving how I deal with my diabetes.

As many people, such as my colleague Catherine Price, often point out diabetes is not a condition that follows a logical path of cause equaling effect. What’s more, for a diabetic effort does not always yield predictable results. A diabetic, such as myself, can eat the same every day, do the same amount of exercise every day, and take the same medication every day and every day, for inexplicable reasons, end up with blood sugar readings that are much higher or lower than the previous day was and tomorrow will be. It’s as close to playing craps with your health as a person can get. For a diabetic A + B doesn’t always = C. Sometimes it equals D, or Q. Or something it equals being really frustrated and pissed off and yelling at people who are idiots because they tell you if you do this to treat your diabetes then everything will be fine. (OK, I’m still working on that resolution.)

Accepting that, for reasons beyond my control my blood sugar will occasionally go high or low for reasons that I can’t directly influence helps me not get frustrated or say the hell with working hard to stay healthy. This increased acceptance helps me not view my blood sugar fluctuations as a moral failure, or a failure of will. It’s a resolution that, so far I have found comforting.


Because I Am a Diabetic, I am Not a Fan of Food

Because I am a diabetic, I am not a fan of food. Truth be told, I hate having to eat.

Since I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11 eating food for me has been little more than a chore and a necessity. It’s one part of the three-legged stool of medication, exercise, and diet that one must monitor closely in order to properly control diabetes. I still have Oliver Twist-like reminiscences of being called out of class in grade school at 10 a.m. every day to eat a mandatory snack. The experience, however, was more of a Bizarre-O version of Dickens where I was brought to an empty school cafeteria to eat a cheese and balogne sandwich and drink a carton of milk before I was permitted to go back to class. Every day when I was called out of class I wanted to say to the teacher, “Please sir, I don’t want any more.”

I have spent years attempting to avoid food. When Power Bars were first introduced to the market I rejoiced because I could simply eat one in place of a meal, or so I thought. This kick lasted a few days before further research revealed it was a nutritionally risky way to proceed with my diet if I didn’t want that three-legged stool to tip over and send me crashing to the floor underneath it.

When I first got an insulin pump I celebrated by setting the basal rate so low I didn’t have to sit down and accomplish finishing a scheduled meal for two days. Despite these salvos in the war against food, the demand of having to consume meals at regular intervals so that I could manage my diabetes properly has never truly gone away. It is always there, lurking, waiting, controlling my life and imposing its need upon me like a toddler who will never grow up.

Or, at least that’s the way I figured it would always be. Then, last month, things changed when I got a juicer.

I was first inspired to get a juicer after reading an article by’s own Catherine Price about how a juicer changed her life. I read it and thought it would be a good way to get some badly needed fruits and vegetables that my diet is bereft of due to my lack of enthusiasm for eating. After reading Catherine’s article I let a year go by before I did anything about it.

But then I bought a juicer. I plugged the thing in. I fed it some carrots and apples and spinach and ginger. I put the concoction to my lips and, ehr muh Gawd. My life, at that moment, shifted to a higher nutritional plane. Of course I immediately thought of Billy Pilgrim, the main character in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five. Specifically I thought of the scene when a starved and malnourished Billy dips his finger in a vat of vitamin-enriched syrup and licks it. “A moment went by,” Vonnegut writes, “and then every cell in Billy’s body shook him with ravenous gratitude and applause.”

A few hours later I stood in my kitchen and drank a lunch of kale, spinach, lemon, cucumber, apples, and carrots. I then experienced the zing of going through the day with more energy than if I had had a normal lunch of say, a bologna and cheese sandwich and a carton of milk.

More than this nutritional uplift, however, I experienced a welcome sense of relief as I loosened the bonds of not having to eat as much and as often. In short, I felt high.


Being Uptight is a Diabetic Complication

I don’t have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I am merely a diabetic.

After much soul searching, and even after consulting with a professional, I have arrived at the conclusion that my diabetes only makes me appear to have OCD. And given this revelation, I can say that it’s possible OCD-like behavior should be considered a new complication of diabetes. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I come to terms with certain habits I display.

I recently moved in with someone after having lived alone for many years. This new, happy event has revealed that, unbeknownst to me, I am “particular” about some things. Or, you know, a lot of things.

I can’t go to sleep without having the dishes done. I have to make the bed shortly after I get up.  And, yes, I’m a bit of neat freak. By neat I mean that things in the house have to be in order. I don’t like clutter. I despise knickknacks.

I’d been previously made aware of my neatness thing. Friends would frequently comment on how straight and tidy my house was. I would deflect such arch-browed “criticisms” by explaining that as a professional writer, I spend a good deal of my time avoiding writing while still wanting to feel like I am accomplishing something. So, I clean a lot. It was a clever and cute way to put people at ease—“Hey, man, I am a professional!”—and it rarely failed to relieve people of the misapprehension that I was some sort of uptight freak.

But, my new living situation is causing me to more honestly examine my tendencies and their roots. I know that I don’t behave this way because of my family. They’re slobs. And I don’t behave this way because I am simply predisposed to be tense and anxious. I can say with pride that I am one of the most relaxed, uptight people you’ll ever meet.

No, the reason for my high-strung, hypertensive ways when it comes to not folding the towels correctly, or leaving shoes in the living room, or failing to sweep the floor in the bathroom when clearly it needs … where was I? Oh, yes. All this is because of my diabetes.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 11 years old. So, for almost 40 years I have been shackled to detail. I record numbers religiously. Blood sugars, dosages, and carbs are as familiar to me as yardage and penalty stats are to a fantasy football fanatic.

I am also very time-focused. My insulin, my food, and my exercise have to be at, or close to, the same time everyday. If not, I have to calculate how a change in times affects dosages, and carbs, and exercise. And, here’s the killer part, I have to do this everyday. Every. Single. Day.

Not satisfied that I was qualified to make such a groundbreaking diagnosis of this potential new complication on my own, I talked to a professional.

I asked Dr. Alan M. Jacobson, a psychiatrist who is one of the world’s foremost experts on the relationship between diabetes and cognitive function, whether or not diabetes influenced such behaviors. (I didn’t actually call him to talk about my peccadillos. It came up in conversation when I was interviewing him for an article for because, lest us not forget, I am a professional.)

He basically said that it was possible that diabetes caused OCD-like behavior, but there was no way to really tell. But, he said, for a diabetic, being particular about niggling details was probably a positive attribute, given all the self-monitoring involved. Then he added that he, himself, was not a detail-oriented person. He’s more of a big picture guy. “So,” he added, “I would probably make a lousy diabetic.”

And there you have it! Hey, I just said it was a complication. I never said it was a bad complication. Jeez, try to not be so uptight about splitting hairs.



Throwing Cold Water on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I’m trying to not be cynical about the ALS dump ice water on your head thing going on lately, but I’m failing.

I think perhaps I’m failing because having diabetes at times makes me more suspicious about how people help other people. It makes me question whether the help people are offering is indicative of self-sacrifice and borne of a genuine desire to improve the lives of people less fortunate, or whether it’s really self serving and self indulgent.

“What the difference? As long as it raises money and awareness, it’s positive,” some might say.

And I say that that is a really cynical view of things.

To throw a dollar at a problem thinking that, because of that dollar you’ve done your part and can go on your way guilt-free, doesn’t really help solve the problem. More typically, it makes the people contributing those dollars feel better about themselves. Then, in the long run, the continued, invested, long-term support that is required over decades to successfully fund research into combating a deadly medical condition is weakened and the disease continues to harm or kill people.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge takes this already existing conundrum of generating support and attention and amps it up to a place never seen before.

The ALS Ice Bucket challenge works like this: a person is challenged by another person to either donate to ALS or pour a bucket of ice water over their head. And, while that sounds downright silly, between July 29 and August 26 the Challenge raised $88.5 million.

According to the ALS Association, as many as 30,000 people in the United States have ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Meanwhile, 29.1 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and in 2012 approximately $35 million was raised for research.

But, while that is clearly out of whack, it’s not the numbers and the dollars that have me cynical. It’s the rationale behind the fundraising.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has become a cash cow phenomenon because of social media. It became popular because people want other people to see them pouring ice water on themselves, preferably on youtube. It became popular because of the inherent narcissism of people who want to be seen by other people as acting charitable. Where were those people before? More crucially, once those people have had their fill of being charitable and feeling self important about their contribution to helping their fellow man, where will they be afterward?

In other words: Are the people who are pouring ice water over their heads to raise money for ALS a cadre of generous people who can be counted on to contribute and work to help alleviate the suffering of people in the future? Can they be counted to help people suffering from other diseases?

My guess is they won’t do anything to help anyone if they’re not being noticed and lauded and rewarded with a sense of increased smugness for their public efforts in undertaking a stunt to help find a cure for …. whatever.

“But,” some might say, “it raises awareness of the disease.”

Sure. But, as my friend Doug Stanhope, says, that’s no real help either.

“Raising awareness is me standing next to a drainage ditch where a guy just hit a goat with his moped on the highway,” Stanhope says in a bit from his latest comedy special. “And now they’re in the ditch, laying in the muck with compound fractures. And the dude’s got a bone sticking through his leg and the fucking goat has a bone sticking through his fur. They’re both laying there, in agony, and I’m raising awareness by standing above them shouting down an empty highway, ‘Look! Look! Ewwww! Look!’ And they’re going, ‘No, help!’ No, no, no. “Look!’ It’s way easier to just go, ‘Look!’


The Church of Hypoglycemia

Low blood sugar episodes have provided me with some of the most creative, and spiritually insightful and expansive, moments in my life.

Once, when my blood sugar was very low, I experienced the certain realization that the interconnectedness of all life on the planet contributes to the betterment of mankind in a way that is unfathomable but also active and intensely real.

Another time I felt with a startling degree of certainty that the life I was living was a life I had lived before and that it had a definable purpose for its existence.

And once, for a few minutes, I saw with pristine clarity the specific ways in which the people in my life contributed to who I was as a person and how I, in turn, contributed to their existence in a positive manner that would resonate down through time and effect others in ways I could not imagine.

I also once decided that the perfect diet to follow was one in which I purchased all my food only by color.

Then there was the time I plotted out a way that I could actually perform Waiting for Godot as a one-man play. All right, so they ain’t all winners. But, they are altered states of consciousness, in their way.

This sounds like heresy. To say anything positive about a complication of diabetes that could, and does kill people, is like extolling the virtues of cigarette smoking because it looks cool. And I am in no way saying that it’s a good idea to amp up your insulin dosage one day in order to touch the hem of God.

As far as I’m aware, there is not a direct cause and effect relationship between hypoglycemia and spiritual and creative expansionist thinking. And there probably haven’t been any clinical trials to try and find one.

But that doesn’t mean it does not exist.

I know that, on those rare occasions when random and meaningful insights rain down while my blood glucose reads in the low double digits, it’s caused by a chemical reaction in the brain due to a lack of glucose. But that doesn’t communicate an appreciation for the experience any more than staring at the molecular model for oxytocin explains the foundations of love.

The experiences have so far enriched my life. They have given me a deeply felt spiritual appreciation about existence. And no, that does not mean I wish to become the first pastor of the Church of Hypoglycemia. As a Roman Catholic who is also a quarter Jewish, my spiritual life is grounded and fairly straightforward, if admittedly confusing. What I mean is that for certain some hypoglycemic experiences have imbued my belief system with greater gravitas and depth while also instilling in me an improved appreciation for the human condition and the spiritual connection of all things.

For a condition that does little more than beat me up all day long, I find that to be a pretty cool bit of a bonus. So, while I’ll never understand it, I’ll take it. 


Blood Testing Machine Break Up

Yesterday was the end of an era. My blood testing machine and I broke up.

Neither of us wanted to end it. My machine had been steadfastly and happily testing my glucose levels for almost five years. I know for some that’s a long-term relationship between a blood machine and a diabetic. But, the whole time we were together we figured if it ain’t broke, why fix it? And it was anything but broke.

It wasn’t always like that. When we first started out, my Accu-Chek and I didn’t like each other one bit. It wasn’t really the machine’s fault. When the Accu-Chek came into my life I simply wasn’t ready for a new machine. But, like an arranged marriage, I had no choice. I had to go with the machine because my insurance company mandated it. I got a notice saying they would no longer cover the test strips and machine that I had been using for three years. As a result, overnight I found myself giving my sweet, little One Touch UltraMini—which I couldn’t imagine living without—the ‘old heave ho.

I would look at my Accu-Chek and remember how just days earlier I would be able to slip the Ultra Mini into my pocket and take it literally everywhere I went. We were joined at the hip. To be blunt, the Accu-Chek was bigger and slower than my OneTouch. It took me a while to warm up to it.

The turning point came one day when I thought about my very first blood glucose-testing machine. It had been 25 years earlier. The thing was as large and heavy as a brick. It required constant calibrating. The test strips cost twice a much as they do today. But, despite all that, I loved that machine. It enabled me to control my diabetes better than I ever had before. It freed me from the stigma and inaccuracy of using urine test strips. It showed me a whole new way of living—a better way of living.

With that history on mind, I decided to give the new Accu-Chek a fair try. And, wouldn’t you know, over time I came to trust and rely on it without reservation. I eventually stopped pining for my old OneTouch. I started looking forward to testing three or four times a day with my new machine. I learned to stop looking back because, frankly, it didn’t do either of us any good.

Then, a week ago I was shoved into the middle of a crossroads once again. Another insurance company sent out another notice saying they were changing the kind of blood glucose meters they would cover. When I got the notice I had one drum of Accu-Chek test strips remaining. I used them sparingly, counting the days until they were gone and then, just like that, yesterday I used the last one. Time goes by so quickly.

Now I will turn to my new machine. I’m sad. But, I’m also hopeful that one day I’ll be able to love it unconditionally. I think my Accu-Chek would have wanted it that way.

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DBlogWeek #5: Life Hacks: Lifesavers and Rubber Bands

Until this topic came up, I never really thought about the little things I do to manage my diabetes a little better. I, like everyone I suppose, have my own shortcuts and tricks to make life with diabetes easier.

The first one is Lifesavers. I always have Lifesavers with me when I leave the house. And I don’t mean any old Lifesavers. I’m talking about a roll of Lifesavers. It doesn’t matter the flavor (unless it’s mint, which I can’t really eat quickly in case of low blood sugar) but I am partial to five flavors. Lifesavers are convenient, small, and fit easily in my pocket. Other roll candy, such as Mentos, are too long or are not wrapped sturdy enough. Sometimes they break and spill into my clothes.

Lifesavers, which have been around since 1935, never let me down when my blood sugar does. That’s because when I have the first inklings of hypoglycemia I want something more than just something that can bring my blood sugar back up quickly. I want something that, if I eat it in pubic, is unobtrusive so I don’t get everyone around me freaked out. Plus, I want something that tastes good because sometimes hypoglycemia makes for a nice excuse to have a treat. And lastly, when it comes to fighting low blood sugar, you can’t beat a name like Lifesavers.

I also use rubber bands for my insulin. I hit upon this recently. When I leave the house for the day, or for work, or to go out overnight, I don’t take my Lantus and my Novolog in their bottles with me. What if they break? What if they become exposed to high temperatures? (I live in Arizona.) So, I withdraw measured amounts out of my two bottles of insulin and inject them into empty bottles, leaving my main supply in the refrigerator. Then, I put a rubber band around the glass bottles with the travel doses. That allows me to knock them around in my pocket or bag without worrying about them breaking. The rubber bands also let me differentiate which bottles are which when I have to grab one and go in a hurry.

The last little trick I use, although rarely, is how to figure out if your blood sugar is high without a machine. I learned this when I was researching a book about clinical trials. In 1776 a physician tasted the urine of a diabetic and noted it tasted sweet. That, of course, is from the excess sugar the kidneys are trying to flush out of the body.

The last time I had to resort to this rather unpleasant trick was when I travelled to Uganda. The Ugandan guards in Brussels for flight check in to Entebbe didn’t like my blood testing machine. So they took it. Who was I to argue with a guy with an AK-47?

For the next three weeks in Africa the only method I had to at least get a sense of where my blood sugar was—a very general sense of not high, high or very high—was by running a finger through a stream of my urine and tasting it.

This trick works when all other resources are unavailable. And, while it’s not as gross as one might imagine, all things considered, I prefer the taste of Lifesavers.  

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DBlog Week #4: Five Ways Diabetes Has Made Me Healthier

One of my favorite jokes is, “Aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” It reminds me of having diabetes. It’s like after telling someone you have diabetes and hearing them say, “Huh. But, aside from that, how’s your health?”

To which I would say, “Great!” And I can say it is great because I know for a fact it is great. I know this because, as a direct result of my diabetes, I’m healthier than I might otherwise be without it.

Sounds strange, I know, and I’m not being Pollyannaish about this. Here are five real-world ways diabetes has made me healthier:

#5 – I see doctors. Because of diabetes I visit doctors regularly and, together they and I, closely monitor my health on an ongoing basis. Not a lot of people do this, even if they can. I’ve been doing this for years and will continue to do so because my diabetes needs close monitoring and adjusting, and that means my overall health gets monitored and cared for.

#4 – I eat well. While I don’t hang out at the local health food store, I do eat relatively well, and I don’t overeat. I do this not only because it makes me feel better to eat real food rather than McDonald’s, but also because doing so messes with my blood sugar for hours and, frankly, that makes me feel like crap. Also, I don’t overeat because as a kid growing up with diabetes I had to eat at certain times. Eating became drudgery and now that I’m grown up and emancipated from childhood, I look for any excuse to not eat.

#3 – I exercise. I exercise for a variety of reasons. It chills me out. It pulls the wrinkles out the day. It makes me feel better mentally and physically. But, I do it regularly because my blood sugar goes haywire when I sit around on the couch being lazy. If I have a choice between running three miles or dealing with bouncing blood sugars, you’ll find me out of the road every time.    

#2 – I’m informed. I’m astute about health and health issues.  As a diabetic I’m tuned into health research, trends, and other factors that affect my health, as well as the health of society at large. I don’t trust just anyone to tell me what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to health. I need to know it’s been tested and comes from a trusted source. I am a very informed consumer of health products and very knowledgeable about health claims. If I have doubts or questions, then I can always talk to one of the doctors I have a years-long relationship with already.

#1 – I’m in touch. I’m more in touch with my body than I would be if I didn’t have diabetes. A doctor told me years ago that diabetes is the great do-it-yourself disease. He told me that with this condition it was up to me to know when to adjust my medication, my food, my exercise, and my life to preserve my health. I listen to my body all the time. Do I need to test my blood? Do I need insulin? Do I just need a nap? Is my sugar going high or low? How do I feel before I run? My body provides me with hundreds of points of input every day and by listening to them I am healthier than I would be by turning a deaf ear to them.

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DBlogWeek #3: Down on Diabetes

I personally never get really down because of my diabetes. I only get down because of how others are down on diabetes.

Overall, diabetes is a tough gig. I’m probably like most diabetics in that I do get frustrated about specific aspects of it. Having my blood sugar go low during sex is not fun. Remembering to have insulin, a syringe, and a roll of Lifesavers whenever I leave the house is a chore. Calculating what I eat, then feeling like crap because I’m bad at math and my blood sugar went high after a meal, makes me feel stupid. Making sure my blood sugar is balanced before I go for a run is a drag.

Thank goodness I don’t waste my time despairing over diabetes in the abstract. I know uncontrolled diabetes is a leading cause of death. I know it is a leading cause of kidney failure, blindness, heart attack and lots of other gruesome things. But, like a teenager worrying about old age, these facts don’t really intrude upon my life on a daily or debilitating basis.

The only thing that truly and consistently gets me down about diabetes is how the general public treats the condition, and in particular, those who have it. Which is to say, they tend to dismiss the disease as a simple result of lifestyle choices. They tend to blame diabetics for having diabetes, in much the same way the public tends to blame smokers for suffering from lung cancer or heart disease.

Many people tend to think that people acquire type 2 diabetes by eating too many sweets, and being overweight. While lifestyle and weight are factors behind the causes of type 2 diabetes, they are not the sole causative agents. Nor is overeating, or eating unhealthy foods, the deterministic “fault” of each and every individual who makes unwise dietary choices. The media, advertising, convenience, lifestyle dictates, and overall culture shapes the ways in which people lead their lives and make the choices they make.

Type 2 diabetes is a symptom of a sometimes ill society whose overall health could use examination and improvement.

Instead of devoting resources to understanding how these complex factors work to harm people’s health, many people find it easier to point a dismissive and judgmental finger at the diabetic, say, “It’s your fault,” and move on.

Stigmatizing people who are sick does very little to help them get better. Trying to understand the causes of diabetes from a cultural perspective, rather than from a blame perspective, can help alleviate its spread and minimize its impact on those who already have it.

That’s something I could get down with.

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